Midway through, this book shifts from being about psychopathy and into the vagaries of diagnostic criteria. In making the shift Ronson does an injustiMidway through, this book shifts from being about psychopathy and into the vagaries of diagnostic criteria. In making the shift Ronson does an injustice to both topics, each of which deserve a full book. It's as though the possibility of carrying questions about the endemic psychopathy in the culture and behavior of the ruling class to their logical (and very frightening) conclusion scared Ronson into diverting his inquiries. [It is, indeed, distressing to think about the degree to which (just for example) munitions manufacturers promote warfare, truly not caring who is killed in their pursuit of profit.] So, then we end up with a shallow treatment of the equally valid question of what he calls "the madness industry." Worth reading, certainly, but I wished for a different outcome. I will say this, though: There's a moment in Ronson's interview with Spitzer (the father of modern psychiatric diagnosis) that is so powerful... and, again, made me wish for a fuller treatment of that topic in a separate book....more
I usually don't use the star system unless I can give four or five stars, but in this case I am making an exception in order to counter-balance the trI usually don't use the star system unless I can give four or five stars, but in this case I am making an exception in order to counter-balance the trend I see in the data about this book. Scroll through the reviews and you will see that people who know how information visualization is supposed to be done are giving this book bad reviews and only one or two stars. The enthusiastic five-star reviews are coming from folks who simply enjoyed looking at the pictures in the book. Their enjoyment of what experts identify as shoddy work illustrates (pun intended) its danger.
Why do I say the work is shoddy? Not for aesthetic reasons. Although I personally found the relentless use of flat graphics in saturated colors to be visually exhausting, that's a matter of taste. But the use of graphics to visualize data is not just a matter of taste; it's also a matter of integrity.
Integrity in infographics begins with the selection of the data to be visualized. As the old programming phrase goes, "garbage in, garbage out." If the data are questionable, then nothing truly useful can come of putting them into visually interesting configurations. If the data are false, then those visual depictions might even be dangerously misleading.
McCandless wants us to believe, for example, that "freak lawnmower accidents" are responsible for more deaths than second-hand smoke. Is that really true? Look closer, and you see that the freak lawnmower accidents are allegedly more common than deaths due to assault. Really? Maybe. Let's check the sources. The Guardian, Time Magazine, and... Google. Yes, the author of a book published by a reputable publisher makes an error no high school teacher would allow a student to make, citing a search engine rather than a reliable source of information. Of course, using Google, we can find all sorts of "facts"--including tobacco industry propaganda aimed at low-balling the rate of death due to second-hand smoke. Who knows upon which of those cyber-"facts" upon which McCandless relied while constructing this diagram? Not us, because he doesn't tell us. And so, there's no way to know whether the facts upon which the whole ballgame depends are accurate or not.
It's not just that one chart. Over and over again, McCandless attributes the data in his infographics to Google, Wikipedia, or other unreliable and/or unintelligible sources. Readers who have studied statistics, information design, or related subjects know to look for the sources, see that they are shoddy, and consequently understand that the graphic cannot be taken seriously. But naive readers see pretty, pseudo-scientific charts and assume that they are being accurately informed as well as entertained.
It gets worse. The graphics themselves are sometimes constructed in misleading or nonsensical ways, thereby further diminishing their integrity and utility.
Why does this matter? We're swimming in data that might be useful in solving the many complex problems that confront our families, communities, and countries. Information visualization can be useful in two ways: (1) to accessibly illustrate and disseminate what we already know, and (2) to figure out new things by looking for patterns and relationships among data. Neither of these purposes is served by accustoming readers to infographics that lack the most basic integrity.
As relevant today as when it was published. There's no need for me to repeat the accolades in previous reviews of a book in which such insightful obseAs relevant today as when it was published. There's no need for me to repeat the accolades in previous reviews of a book in which such insightful observations are phrased in such lively and lucid prose. Let me just say this: There can be a tendency, when reading a book like this, to skip the conclusion, assuming that the author will be merely summarizing and repeating what has already been said. Don't do that. Frank builds up to his most important conclusions inductively, saving their statement for that last chapter. Don't skip it....more
Mostly reproductions of primary source materials (newspaper and magazine articles, mostly) with only a little commentary by the editor. I wished for mMostly reproductions of primary source materials (newspaper and magazine articles, mostly) with only a little commentary by the editor. I wished for more commentary and less exhaustive excerpts, but I see the historical value in gathering and reproducing these anti-Italian screeds, which are sometimes explicitly hateful but most often couched in the sanctimonious tones used today to condemn the alleged "culture of poverty" and/or the self-righteous indignation now aimed at immigrants from points south. Really, it's worth wading through these materials to see for yourself that the EXACT same charges now leveled against other groups were once leveled against Italians, often in nearly identical terms. I knew this and have taught it but still was sometimes surprised by the eerie symmetries of details....more
The premise of this book is simple--build a toaster from scratch--and Twaites' writing style is similarly straightforward. But what Thwaites is up toThe premise of this book is simple--build a toaster from scratch--and Twaites' writing style is similarly straightforward. But what Thwaites is up to here is deep, nothing less than undermining (at one point, literally) the foundations of the throw-away culture upon which both late consumer capitalism and the ongoing rush to wreck the planet depend.
Thwaites tells the story in a matter-of-fact, at times deadpan, voice, punctuating the tale with fun facts, amusing email, and quick character sketches of people met along the way. It's a fun, fast read with a powerful message made palatable by the breezy style.
Don't undercut your own enjoyment by reading too many reviews that might reveal key events or conclusions too soon. Just jump in and enjoy the ride. ...more
I'm going to echo all of the positive reviews here, with one quibble. On the last page of his own story, (view spoiler)[Canada attributes his own deciI'm going to echo all of the positive reviews here, with one quibble. On the last page of his own story, (view spoiler)[Canada attributes his own decision to throw away a gun to his Christian faith (fair enough, if that was his experience) but then goes on to assert that young men not raised in the church cannot possibly have a moral center from which to make such ethical decisions. That left a bad taste in my mouth as I closed what was otherwise a remarkably insightful book. That one problematic page notwithstanding, this is indeed essential reading for anybody who hopes to understand, and thereby be in a better position to undermine, violence. (hide spoiler)]...more